Ukraine: Russia attacks Azovstal in Mariupol

ZAPORIYYA | Russia launched a first-ever attack with tanks and infantry on the Azovstal Steelworks, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the strategic port of Mariupol, on Tuesday, as the UN announced it had managed to evacuate civilians from the area.

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“A powerful attack on the territory of Azovstal is currently underway, with the support of armored vehicles, tanks, with attempts to land troops, with the help of boats and a large number of infantry elements,” said Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of das Ukrainian Azov Regiment, in a video message on Telegram.

Shortly before that, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that aircraft and artillery from the Russian army and the pro-Russian Donetsk “People’s Republic” would begin “destroying” Ukrainian “firing positions”.

He accused the Azov regiment defending the plant of abusing the ceasefire, ordering the evacuation of civilians, coming out of the steel plant’s basements and “positioning themselves on the territory and in the factory buildings.

Until now, Russian forces have bombed this steelworks, whose vast underground galleries dating back to World War II sheltered combatants and civilians without water, food or medicine, by plane and sea without attempting to enter.

On April 21, Vladimir Putin said he had ordered his troops not to launch an attack, but to block the area “so that no fly could get by.”

“We had lost hope”

Two women were killed and a dozen other civilians injured in the shelling that preceded the attack, Palamar said in his video message, noting that other civilians were also at the scene.

In the morning, the Ukrainian Presidency announced that it would continue its efforts with the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to evacuate the civilians who stayed behind in Azovstal, according to Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boïtchenko, 200 .

This weekend, for the first time in two months of siege and bombing, 100 civilians hiding in the basements of the huge steel mill were evacuated.

At least some of them arrived Tuesday in the city of Zaporizhia, a Ukrainian-controlled city 230 km northwest of Mariupol.

“I am pleased and relieved to confirm that 101 civilians have been successfully evacuated from the Azovstal Metallurgical Plant in Mariupol,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine Osnat Lubrani said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We are very grateful to everyone who has helped us. There was a moment when we lost hope, we thought everyone had forgotten each other,” said one of the evacuees, Anna Zaitseva, upon arrival with a six-month-old baby in her arms.

“Hour of Glory”

In a more than two-hour phone call with President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron asked him to “allow[these]evacuations to continue.”

In addition, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who became the first Western leader to speak before the Ukrainian parliament on February 24 since the conflict began, promised him additional military aid of 355 million euros for Kyiv.

“This is Ukraine’s finest hour, which generations will remember and tell,” said Boris Johnson, referring to Winston Churchill’s famous speech of June 18, 1940.

This new aid includes “radar to locate the artillery bombarding your cities, heavy transport drones to resupply your forces and thousands of night vision goggles,” he said.

The announcement came as President Putin called on the West to halt arms sales to Ukraine.

“Toenails Plucked Out”

The Russians are continuing their offensive in the east of the country.

Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, and nearby towns continue to be bombed, according to the Ukrainian General Staff.

At least ten people died and fifteen were injured in a strike at a factory in Avdiivka, a town near the front line, the governor of Donetsk region said.

According to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, at least nine more people were killed in shelling in the Donetsk region on Tuesday.

In the south, the city of Odessa is again the target of Russian missiles.

Ukrainians fear this key port is among Moscow’s targets, especially as a Russian general has claimed the Kremlin’s offensive in Ukraine is aimed at establishing a corridor from Russia to Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria, passing through Odessa.

According to the presidency’s morning report, the center of Mykolaiv was hit east of Odessa on Monday evening. An investigation into possible “torture and murder” during the Russian occupation of a place in this region has been opened, the services of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine said on Tuesday, also via Telegram.

“According to the investigation, the bodies of two residents with traces of gunshot wounds were found in a mass grave in the village of Novofontanka” and “one of the men had his legs tied,” they specify.

A grave containing two civilians with “nails torn out” and their hands “cuffed” was also found in Kalynivka in the Kyiv region, according to Mykhaïlo Podoliak, adviser to the Ukrainian presidency.

referenda in sight

The Europeans are working alongside them to tighten their economic sanctions against Moscow.

The European Commission has finalized its proposal for a sixth package of sanctions against Moscow to cut funding for its war in Ukraine.

It provides for a phasing out of European purchases of Russian oil over a period of 6 to 8 months, with an exception for Hungary and Slovakia, two landlocked countries that are entirely dependent on supplies through the Druzhba pipeline and can continue their purchases from the Russia by 2023, a European official said.

The approach of May 9, the day Russia celebrates victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, is fueling speculation about how Moscow might announce gains in Ukraine.

According to Ukrainian military intelligence, “Russia is considering the possibility of annexing the occupied territories of southern Ukraine to occupied Crimea and integrating them into the Russian economic space.” “The Russian occupation regime is trying to convince the local population that (Russia) has finally established its control over the occupied territories,” they say.

In Washington on Monday, the American Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Michael Carpenter, provided “very credible” information that Russia intends to organize “attempted annexation” referendums “around mid-May” » the pro-Russian separatist «republics» Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbass (eastern Ukraine).

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